The Commons in the Parliament of 1422: English Society and Parliamentary Representation under the Lancastrians

The Commons in the Parliament of 1422: English Society and Parliamentary Representation under the Lancastrians

The Commons in the Parliament of 1422: English Society and Parliamentary Representation under the Lancastrians

The Commons in the Parliament of 1422: English Society and Parliamentary Representation under the Lancastrians

Excerpt

In the early fifteenth century the Commons were occasionally described as being one single, the third, estate of the realm in parliament. Was their unity as an estate a political unity (suggested by the fact that they were the Lower House of parliament), or was it that and something more? Was their social composition undergoing changes that further emphasised their unity as a political estate? This is one of the most important questions, to which in this book I have tried to find some sort of answer. But the question of the social composition of the Lower House has a bearing on another important problem, as it seems to me. If the Commons, especially their still more significant element, the knights of the shire, were men of substance and influence, keen to sit in parliament as often as they could manage it, might this not simply suggest a capacity for some measure of independent collective action? Might it not discourage at all events the notion that what such men were required to do in parliament was really of no very great importance there, or in the political life of the nation as a whole? Were men of this type likely to have been generally content merely to sit `as siphre doth in awgrym that noteth a place, and no thing availeth', to use the words of a poem of 1399, Mum and the Sothsegger. The same passage here that derides those among the Commons who were such, suggests that there were some of their number who were by no means supine, or merely self-seeking, or in fear of their masters among the lords. As Professor J. G. Edwards has recently put one side of the case: `That men of . . . [such] standing were prepared to be at the pains of repeatedly riding across England to serve as representatives in parliament is a notable fact, which scarcely supports the assumption that the part played by them at Westminster was a mere formality. Moreover, the payment of expenses to these representatives was evidently accepted by the local communities as an established and justified accessory of English government.'

It will be readily agreed that the historian of the medieval Commons works at a great disadvantage in comparison with him who treats of Tudor and later times. The rolls of the medieval parliaments disclose, directly, no details of proceedings outside the parliament house proper, and only refer to what was transacted . . .

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